Yadira kindly mailed me a stack of reading material to read on my long bus rides. Today I started the first issue of Politics is not a Banana, and want to put down some first impressions, especially since I’m stuck on the bus anyway.

Like with Dupont’s review of the Tiqqun piece, I was surprised to find I liked a lot of it. I don’t know why this surprised me. Some of this may be that I read like Nick Hornby talks about in his reader reviews – what I think of a piece, or at least how I feel about a piece, is shaped a great deal by where I read it and how I found it and what’else is going on in my life. Yadira’s generosity in sending me this stuff, and the fun of beginning a new correspondence which hopefully starts a friendship, and Hugh and Taylor’s generosity with their time, and the intellectual excitement of big ideas and trying to understand a new milieu, all of that helps me be predisposed to liking this stuff. Or at least to being more open minded (open hearted?)
In any case, I like the seriousness of the writing, in the sense that it seems to take style seriously. (I should say, as much as I find Tiqqun (and likewise Dauve, and Dupont) offputting sylistically, there too I appreciate the fact of stylistic seriousness even though it’s not my particular style.) I like the first person-ness of it. I like the seriousness of the look, which is to say that I like that it takes the look seriously. It reminds me of what I liked so much about punk and punks and zines, and of what I thought about and how I felt and how I wanted to feel when I was in that stuff in a real way (except this is smarter and at the same time less together and more together).
With regard to the first person content, I can relate to some of the content. I get a sense of being stuck, a mild but real recurrent desperation. My own desperation feels more like loneliness and is less intense or angry, I think, but I can relate. I also get a sense of deepseated affection for the people one cares about and trusts and spends time with.
Let me try it this way. In a famous metaphor, a very large number of monkeys with typewriters over a very long period of time write a Shakespeare play. Let’s imagine another, similar group – chimpanzees creating texts by re-arranging pre-existing texts with scissors and glue and the occasional editorial revision. Let’s say these chimps recreate PNAB, and another primate tries to identify its component parts. I would say that among the component parts of PNAB are the transcripts of a “dude I love you” drunk-dial, a hastily written thank you note to strangers for their hospitality, an angry “fuck you go die” letter (perhaps never sent, or intended to be sent, or sent and deeply regretted while at the same time never feeling sorry), some Situationist and anarchist tracts, a journal entry or three (about unhappy childhoods, poverty, college classes, hating the boss, hating cops, exhilirating yet frightening poor choices with sex and drugs, and both loving the people one feels close to and beginning to wonder if this out-of-time feeling of collective closeness will last or if the wonder is the beginning of the end). It’s a document of intensity – big ups and big lows, and an energetic oscillation between the two that on the one hand wants to overcome that dynamic, and on the other finds the energy, well, energizing and has only a partial interest in being self-reflexive.
I’m not getting into the politics here yet, not because I don’t take that seriously but because I wanted to lead with/from (and remain as long as I can in) the affinities I find with this.
One of the primary senses I get here is that this is very much of a piece with where the people involved are at in their lives. I think this is one of the main disconnects for me with this as well – I simply am not in the same circumstances. I can connect with the (and/or, at a) first person level but the I and we here are only to a very limited degree a me or an us that I see myself in – hence the affective sense of connection rather than a more richly imagined “I can see myself here.” To a limited extent I can imagine myself having once been like or among this, but really I don’t think I was ever that cool or interesting. And nowadays, well, this does not seem like something written for or about married people or parents, among other things. That’s not a criticism. Elements of this disconnect make me nostalgic (nostalgic, as I alluded to, for a personal past much more made up than actually lived), make me momentarily (and in the imaginative fantasizing parts, not in the serious decision-making parts) second guess aspects of my current circumstances and how I got here, and make me glad I’m where I’m at and not where I’d need to be at to feel fully at home reading PNAB. These are sentiments I’ve had a few times as I’ve started to try to get to know IA currents and related stuff – being impressed and in a way smitten, feeling very much that this is not mine and I’m not of this, wishing it was and I was, but ultimately deciding to be glad for the conditions that make for these personal disconnects. I would like read an analogous publication (or several) by and for people in different circumstances.

More notes on PNAB…

The fiction doesn’t do anything for me. A matter of taste, I guess.

The essay on music is interesting. I like abrasive music. The piece also demonstrates a level of discpline, in the sense of studiousness in reading and in the discipline of learning to like abrasive music. It also makes clear that part of the project here – in PNAB as object and proposed by PNAB as a body of ideas – is a type of training and making of people. PNAB’s production involved a measure of discipline in several areas (including the layout and design) and PNAB is a tool for a sort of discipline – I think at least as much in the sense of acting on readers as in the sense of encouraging readers to consciously act on themselves. The music piece talks about the idea of attack and so on, which I’ll come back to. The essay talks about needing “the strength to not only endure, but also willfully oppose an existence dominated by capital”, referring to “our daily attack” and talks about the role of music in sustaining this. The piece also talks about how subcultures and music can become a type of anesthetic to help people get by, and being profitable for and useful politically (via the maintenance of distraction and passivity) for the capitalist class. It seems to me that what the piece says about musical subcultures and genres is also applicable to political subcultures and networks. It seems to me that what feels subjectively like an “attack” or rupture is not necessarily always actually such, even if responded to in a heavy handed fashion by the repressive apparatus. Furthermore, an “attack” on a particular capitalist is not necessarily attack on capitalism. There is a long history of capitalist countries and capitalist enterprises attacking and undermining and destroying each other in various ways. These are not anti-capitalist even though they are anti- specific capitalists. I don’t have clear ideas of the way out of capitalism as such and so am not criticizing PNAB for lacking them, but I do think that these points are worth raising for consideration.

The piece ends with a fantasy of sneaking into a mansion and humiliating and repulsing the residents. I can understand the anger here. The fantasy strikes me as a bit cruel in a way that makes me uneasy. The fantasy also strikes me as insufficient – over all it seems to me that the communist goal is not humiliated capitalists but rather and end to capitalist society. The former is not necessarily functional to the latter, at least not in all versions.

PNAB1 includes a proposal called “Plan B.” I looked for an online copy but can’t find one so I’m going to copy out a fair bit of the document.

Plan B aims for “recomposed and constituted rebel communities [with] the capacity and power to attack.” It wants “to produce social conflict and strengthen our wolrds.” It denounces activists for moralism and “seek[s] an avenue for communication that has a foundation in something more than perceived political ties (…) a network of communication to produce knowledge that maintains itself for the next attack.” This perspective has been put into action by “insurrectional anarchists [who] have proposed the structure and reproduction of small groups (3-7) making attacks on objects of their misery. (…) However these groups are very diffuse and the nature of their cellular structure and somewhat misanthropic perspectives [on some of their part] removes them from the arean of human social relationships. Additionally, most who espouse the theory of insurrectional anarchists in the US refuse the protest as a site of attack (…) The point is not to produce a new order and expand its influence but to become attentive to the rifts. (…) We recognize the social nature of revolt just as we recognize the affects of our rioting. There is nothing in the world of capital that compares to the feelings of comradery and power in the moments when it is only possible to speak of I-as-we – something that is felt precisely when one is linked to five thousand others destroying everything that prevents us from inhabiting the world. (…) The model we are most experienced with in the US is the Black Bloc, the process of which looks like this: An affinity group or cluster of affinity groups confirm their interest in producing social conflict at a protest. They chose a date, a few possible targets and have a proposal for a march route. They then produce the most intoxicating rhetoric they can muster as a “call for action” and within the time between then and the protest, hope for the best. Before the day of the protest there is a secret “vouched for” meeting where the questions of “how” are sussed out. Usually however, no one besides the organizing group has made it their task to provide resources and people can be expected to be prepared only with a few reinforced banners and perhaps some flags – somehow “and anything else one may need to show their resistance to capitalism” does not translate well to weapons in English.

Black Blocs have failed on numerous occasions to produce quality attacks that transform the demonstration into a riot, and moreover, their exclusive nature often provokes a fetishism and thus a parody of autonomous force by those excluded from the knowledge and wisdom of its form. This is less a failure on the part of the form and more on our abilities to share knowledge and be self-critical.” Whatever its shortcomings, “there is something that provokes its continual reproduction more so than mere identity fetishsism. There have been times when an autonomous material force, expressing itself through a Black Bloc, has been powerful and intriguing enough to be appropriated by others outside of its political sphere. (…) The Black Bloc technique, severed from its political implications, has a few simply qualities: it is a way to organize the passage from protest to riot; it is a way of creating anonymity so one can riot or do an action with less fear of later consequences and it is an expression of power. In addition the organization of a Black Bloc provides a framework to elaborate and experiment with. This is key. Without such a structure, the few victories would likely be nothing more than the relationship of praying – hope turned into reality. With our self-organizaiton of attack, we become conscious of our agency”

I’d like to suggest that it’s an overstatement to refer to an actually existing current practice of “destroying everything that prevents us from inhabiting the world” – rather, there’s a collective suspension, rather than destruction.

I’d also like to suggest that the idea that people bring weapons to black blocs is a bad one. If that happens, the police will start killing black bloc participants, full stop. That stuff and the thing about “produc[ing] the most intoxicating rhetoric they can” reminds me of the Wu Ming essay “Specters of Muntzer at Sunrise” and the ensuing discussion at the Wu Ming blog. In this case, I think that there are elements of the stuff in PNAB that fit into what Wu Ming call a myth though it seems to me to have less narrative, and is more of a style in a sense kind of like subculture and kind of like fashion design (I realize those can seem like loaded comparisons, not my intent).

I think the terms “autonomous” and “force” and “attack” could all stand some unpacking. As I mentioned before, this stuff sounds to me like it’s very strongly tied to how some people live. The black bloc is not so universal or open a form as this piece implies. The level of risk involved means that only people willing to take those risks will do so. The set of those people may not be entirely reducible to but is strongly correlated to life circumstances that make those risks more bearable, rather than circumstances that magnify them. As just one example, it’s hard to imagine this tactic catching on among people who are at risk for deportation, except under very particular circumstances. That aside, this is primarily about bringing together people who already share the vision and values which predispose them toward such a gathering. There’s a place for that, but I’d like more about how people acquire that vision and values. Also, on vision and values, I find denunciations of morality tiresome and offputting. It’s abundantly clear that all of this is informed by something which can be called a moral compass of some sort – among other things, that’s why they oppose domination and hierarchy in principle, rather than simply opposing the particular hierarchies and forms of domination they live under.. Pretending otherwise is silly. This is what keeps all the social rupture etc stuff from being pure formalism — capitalism produces social ruptures and so forth, those are not lauded and for good reason, because this is not about simple breakdown despite the rhetorical failure to make that clear.

Plan B continues with a five point “Theory of Attack” which includes producing or amplifying social conflict, involving “get[ting] organized with a certain attention to detail (…) in such a way that intentially de-hierarchalizes space and affirms the rituals, customs, and gestures we make together”, producing power, and aiming eventually for both qualitative and quantitative increase of people who mobilize. “With 1000 we can do most things we wish to do in a city. 100-200 solid, self-organized and materially prepared folks can become 1000 far better than 25 and can provide more resources.”

I think the “become 1000” thing can be read as having two meanings, one limited to individual events and one linking events. One, there just are people who will show up and find the activity, and will undergo rapid transformative experiences, becoming part of what’s going on. The people involved early on will not be the only people involved, at least in some cases. Two, some of those people who undergo transformative experiences will begin a process by which they can become part of the “100-200 solid” people next time around. The “100-200 solid” people have a set of tasks – a division of labor? – that maps onto these two meanings, internal to one event and linking across events. For the first, it’s about preparing the framework to maximize participation and efficacy without compromising vision, values, and safety. For the second, it’s about maximizing the transformative potentials of the experiences through reflection, theory, follow up, socializing, etc.

The piece continues with a “proposal for experimentation” calling for “a ‘host’ group [that] choose an objective(s) and then has face to face communication with those they trust about the idea to guage interest. (…) The host group will create some mode of communication between themselves and the other trusted groups in order to receive affirmations of interest. The trusted groups, who may not know all of each other, are networked through a series of vouching, facilitated in part by the ‘host’ group” This allows practical considerations and a maximizing of experimentation with methods and objectives.

It seems to me that the experimentation piece is very serious in some ways but in a way it reduces political matters to technical matters. I actually have a lot of time for that, though I’m personally less taken with the particular black bloc technique that this is about. I think levels of technical expertise relative to various tasks and ends are very valuable and I think it’s really easy to mistakenly attribute failure of political perspective to failures of technique in implementation. At the same time, the site and the ends here are basically fixed. The site will be some kind of urban space, most likely, and will not be the workplace of someone involved, or the rented living space and landlord/tenant relationship of someone involved. Certainly the time will be off the job, not on the job.

The piece talks about on the one hand trying to bring aout “the materialization of Black Blocs (…) or of their qualities outside the protest arena” in the “attempt to produce a more rhizomatic form for our autonomous social force – one that can be easily appropriated by others”

I don’t know what rhizomatic form means here beyond that the writers have read some Deleuze or some deleuzianal writers. On the “easily appropriated” bit, I tried to talk at least obliquely about some of the limits on this appropriation. I’m not sure how much this will succeed beyond “the protest arena” and would like to know how much folk who are actually in these networks think this sort of experimentation has worked. (This is also one of many times I’ve wished I knew more about the history of the new left, because all of this sounds to me like the little I’ve read about the SDS ‘days of rage’ stuff.)

The piece talks about “do[ing] what will benefit us (…) based on our needs and affinities.” As I’ve sort of said, I don’t feel like part of the second person pronouns here, the us and the we. Those mostly seem like a given here, and the issues of how those are formed, reproduced, and expanded aren’t addressed. If I’m right about how specific all this is to particular moments in people’s lives, then I think those matters will become fairly pressing at some point.

I also think the criteria of benefit and need are unstated here. In a sense part of the over all PNAB project is to cultivate a need for collectivity and of experience of the sort which is described here. I can respect that, but I think it’s worth being clear what the “our needs” is about. Even if needs is understood in a more banal sense (like for instance personally right now I need new shoes because the ones I’m wearing have holes in the them and the soles are worn out such that they exacerbate knee problems I have, leading to pain that sometimes makes it hard to sleep), I see little emphasis on meeting this sort of need in the theoretical view developed here or in the practices tied to it. Maybe I’m just not aware of that. In any case, there’s also an important link to discuss, that between the meeting of current needs and the challenge and ultimately the overthrow of the structures that produce and reproduce our lack of what we need. And if I’m right about the effects-on-the-audience sort of programmatic disciplinary/training aspirations in PNAB then I think there’s an element of making the actions an end in themselves. I’m sympathetic to that in a way but am not totally onboard.

The piece describes as one example providing rock hammers for protesters to use to tear up asphalt to make projectiles. I have reservations about this in conjunction with the comments about weapons.

I think this statement by TPTG after the bank burning in Greece is worth taking seriously, including this bit:

“If class struggle escalates, the conditions may look more and more like the ones in a proper civil war. The question of violence has already become central. In the same way we assess the state’s management of violence, we are obliged to assess proletarian violence, too: the movement has to deal with the legitimation of rebellious violence and its content in practical terms. As for the anarchist-antiauthoritarian milieu itself and its dominant insurrectional tendency the tradition of a fetishized, macho glorification of violence has been too long and consistent to remain indifferent now. Violence as an end in itself in all its variations (including armed struggle proper) has been propagated constantly for years now and especially after the December rebellion a certain degree of nihilistic decomposition has become evident (there were some references to it in our text The Rebellious Passage), extending over the milieu itself. In the periphery of this milieu, in its margins, a growing number of very young people has become visible promoting nihilistic limitless violence (dressed up as “December’s nihilism”) and “destruction” even if this also includes variable capital (in the form of scabs, “petit-bourgeois elements”, “law-abiding citizens”). Such a degeneration coming out of the rebellion and its limits as well as out of the crisis itself is clearly evident.”

One of the big things I take from this is that just as states have to be sure that violence can be legitimized – because otherwise it will create more resistance – any other version of violence has to have those same kinds of concerns when it comes to violence (aside from moral concerns, which I also take seriously). In a sense, then, if there’s going to be talk about escalating the intensity and manner of conflict, particularly by people who are going to use terms like “attack” and “war” with various adjectives before it, then I think there ought to be discussion about rules of engagement. (Those concerns were in the background of this and part of why I started thinking about the rules agreed on by the Harper’s Ferry raiders.)


[I need to run just now but when I come back (also come back to actions as ends in themselves; transformative effects; internal to some event and linking events, from 100-200 to 1000) — ]

I’d like to try a thought experiment. As I think I mentioned, I think the implied site for most of what’s described here is urban space. I’d like to transpose this to a workplace, to draw out what are I think some of affinities between the perspective here and that of the people I’m closest to, who mostly spend time thinking about stuff related to the waged point of production.